Midnight Express

1978

Midnight Express

Critics Consensus

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96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 24

89%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 31,012
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Movie Info

Midnight Express is a harrowing tale of a naïve American caught in a nightmare of his own making thousands of miles from his home. Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is an American tourist visiting Turkey with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle) when he's caught by customs officials trying to smuggle a large amount of hashish out of the country. The crime would normally carry a sentence of four years, but officials decide to make an example of Billy, and he draws a 30-year sentence despite the promises of his Turkish legal counsel. While Susan and Billy's father (Mike Kellin) pledge to do everything they can to speed Billy's release, in fact there's little than can be done. Billy quickly finds himself in a hellish prison that's a nightmare of filth, violence, rape, inedible food, and unspeakable health conditions. However, Billy gains a few confidantes behind bars: Jimmy (Randy Quaid), an American in a constant state of emotional overdrive; Max (John Hurt), an intelligent, drug-addicted Englishman; and Erich (Norbert Weisser), a gay Scandinavian who is attracted to Billy but accepts his gentle refusals of sex. Before long, Billy is convinced that he can take no more, and he makes plans to take the "midnight express" -- jailhouse slang for escape. While his friends are willing to help, they also make clear that almost no one who has tried to escape has lived to tell the tale. Based on a true story, Midnight Express was a box-office hit which won wide acclaim for the performances of Brad Davis and John Hurt; and the screenplay, by Oliver Stone, won an Academy Award. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Midnight Express

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (2)

Audience Reviews for Midnight Express

  • Aug 30, 2014
    "The Istanbul Redemption"! Man, prisons are tough anywhere, but they seem to get brutal in Turkey, although Billy Hayes did come out and criticize this film for exaggerating how bad the Turks who put him through a world of suffering were. He must have gotten Stockholm syndrome, or rather, Istanbul syndrome, or something, but make no mistake, he did suffer, and who is more up to the job of portraying the full brutality of prison life than the guy who did "Bugsy Malone", everyone's favorite lighthearted gangster musical? I joke, but Alan Parker is well-known for either lively musicals or an unflinching portrayal of people suffering, and then there was "Pink Floyd - The Wall", which was a musical that was about as disturbing as this film. Yeah, there's talk about how much Alan Parker toned down that film so that it could sell to kids, but with this film, I guess it's safe to say that he really changed his approach to heavy subject matter, that is, if he actually had the choice to avoid an R rating with a script by Oliver Stone. I guess I can forgive Hayes for complaining about the subtlety issues regarding the themes of this film, because this was before Stone really broke out, so Hayes couldn't have predicted that a film with Stone couldn't be complete without subtlety issues. Anyways, the fact of the matter is that Parker began his career as a heavy dramatic filmmaker big, with a film that is about as good as it is disturbing (Not quite cartoon genital monsters floating around to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" disturbing, but still), despite its flaws. This is a bit of a formulaic hard prison drama, or at least it's gotten to be, establishing conventions that have gone on to be overexplored, thus rendering this plot a touch dated, to where it's harder to ignore what tropes stood in the '70s for films of this type. If nothing else, the conventions gradually become harder to ignore, because the film is a little too long, taking its time to flesh out certain aspects, if not get repetitious with excessive material which slows down a sense of momentum that is further retarded by an overly thoughtful directorial atmosphere. If anything is subtle about the storytelling, it's the often effective, yet also often dry thoughtfulness to Alan Parker's direction, which bonds with the dragging and leads into a number of slow spells, which prove to be the biggest problem deriving from the lengthiness, but not the only one. The film eventually divides attention between the lead and his peers a little too thoroughly, providing a few side plots which feel sort of episodic in their relative inconsequentiality, and a pinch over in their supplementing the film's thematic aspects. The film can get excessive with more than just its narrative structure, for although I think that too many people are making a bit too big of a deal about the portrayal of the Turks, the antagonists are thinly written, just as the disturbing content gets a little abrasive, in that they are overemphasized, until a sense of purpose for the content, in addition to a sense of progression to the plot which goes supplemented by the disturbances, is all but lost. The film gradually becomes disjointed, and although it's always compelling, it challenges your patience through its formulaically and often unsubtly dragging along an uneven and repetitious path. Still, the flaws are not as extreme as they could have been, and the ambition of this film is met almost every step of the way by inspiration, even in style. Influenced by '70s synthesizer sensibilities, if not a bit of disco, Giorgio Moroder's score doesn't always fit, when it is actually used, that is, but it is unique, entertaining and plenty effective in its alternating between liveliness and a certain bleak intensity, not entirely unlike Michael Seresin's cinematography, whose spare lighting compliments a sense of freedom by illuminating scenes set on the outside lushly, and, through contrast, emphasizes the heavy shadows in the prison and immerses you into this drama's world and atmosphere. The visual style ends up being a very important factor in the effectiveness of this film, for it's so attractively handsome, and so engrossingly bleak, breathing some life into the intensity of a very important story. The telling of this tale may be a little too disjointed and unsubtle for its own good, but the ambition is perfectly understandable, for this portrait on the brutality of a corrupt prison system, and on a man's struggle to survive under unreasonably brutal circumstances, is dramatically powerful and thematically worthy. I guess Oliver Stone has never been especially controlled with his plays on worthy themes, for he, as screenwriter, drives the film's subtlety issues, and yet, he is still a gifted storyteller, and this was the first major reflection of that, for Stone does not flinch from powerful, if somewhat excessively disturbing set pieces and distinct, if, in some areas, thin characterization. Stone crafts a generally solid narrative, and Alan Parker's direction brings it to life, with intense highlights that go anchored by a frantic style and chilling, memorable imagery, and mark penetrating heights in dramatic storytelling whose thoughtfulness is often blanding, but largely immersive, drawing you into the prisoners' horrifying world, with no small help from the portrayal of the prisoners. Actually, everyone is reasonably convincing and effective in this drama, but it is the leads who really draw you in, whether it be Randy Quaid and John Hurt as the leads' just as anguished friends, or leading man Brad Davis, whose deep and nuanced emotional commitment to the role of a decent, criminalized man who is gradually crushed by a harsh environment sells a sense of deterioration, which allows resonance to thrive with the progression of the plot. The film is very well-acted, and very well-crafted, for that matter, but it gets a little carried away with its structure and its themes, until it finds itself held back, though not much, for there is enough inspiration on and off of the screen to carry the final product a respectable way. In the end, there are a few conventional, or at least retrospectively familiar aspects found along the overlong path that the film blandly, unevenly and often unsubtly treks, and is made compelling enough by decent scoring, outstanding cinematography, extensive scripting, audacious direction, and strong acting, - especially by Brad Davis - to make Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" a generally engrossing and ultimately rewarding dramatization of the horrors Billy Hayes faced in a problematic prison system. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Aug 09, 2014
    Wonderful, crime drama, Midnight Express is a captivating, thoroughly engaging picture, one that is raw, poignant and stomach turning as you watch the man's ordeal unfold as he tried unsuccessfully to smuggle drugs out of Turkey. Some scenes in the film are downright brutal, and under the skilled eye of director Alan Parker, he captures it in such through his camera lens that you cannot deny the power that this film holds. Parker has made some outstanding pictures throughout his career, some soar to cinematic legend that belong up there with some of the medium's most powerful, and classic films. The film is dramatic, tense, and really in your face, and it doesn't shy away at showing you what this was really like. Brilliantly constructed in terms of tension and drama, Midnight Express is like I said, raw, gritty and poignant, but it's a beautifully made picture that manages to stand out due to its entrancing storyline. The script is solid, the cast display some determination to really suck you into the film, and the result is a one of a kind drama that should not be missed. This is a standout picture, a film that sticks with out, and will make think about what you have just seen. Midnight Express is top-notch filmmaking at its very best. This is a picture so entertaining that it's hard to turn your back on it. So if you're in the mood for something truly captivating and riveting right up to the final frame, Midnight Express is a definite must see. I very much enjoyed the film, and thought it had the right balance dramatic and crime elements to create something unique.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Feb 22, 2014
    Midnight Express, follows the true story of Billy Hays, an American who was caught smuggling in Turkey. I believe that I should've felt more emotion during this movie, because it truly gives a brutal picture of the chaotic Turkish Prison, and unjust judicial system. But really all I felt was anger towards Rifki, and pride when he gets what's coming to him. Well I guess that is an understatement, since there are a few powerful scenes not involving Rifki at all, when Billy Hays' girlfriend comes to visit him, and all he can think about is her cleavage, that was a truly pitiful site. The screenplay is adapted by Oliver Stone, from the real Billy Hays' book. What was truly impressive though was the director and crew on production, since the Turkish Prison felt genuinely real. It's a tragic case, and a solid movie.
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Dec 20, 2013
    You mix with drugs abroad and this is what happens. This has stained Turkey's reputation for me for years. The story is mindblowing despite its brutality.
    John B Super Reviewer

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